Edwards, Cantrell: No 'single day to waste' to save coast; 'This is Louisiana's moment'

May 30, 2018

Mixing dire warnings about the urgent need for action to save Louisiana's disappearing coast with optimistic statements about the future, Gov. John Bel Edwards welcomed several hundred attendees Wednesday to the biannual State of the Coast conference in New Orleans.

The conference, which began in 2010, is the largest gathering of engineers, scientists, policy makers and environmentalists of its kind.

Edwards’ opening address featured the sort of rhetoric that has become standard in discussions of Louisiana’s coast.

“A generation from now, the coast will be very different,” he said. “The worst-case scenario from a few years ago is now the best-case scenario.”

Louisiana and the federal government “do not have a single day to waste," he said.

Edwards urged the attendees not to be dissuaded by criticism. "Some people will try to knock us off course,” he said, but state officials must remain strong.

“Our plan is based on science,” he said.

Edwards did not mention Plaquemines Parish by name when mentioning the naysayers, but of late, the loudest criticisms of the state's efforts have been coming from there.

Those criticisms are focused on two major projects in the state's master plan: the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton sediment diversions, both of which would create controlled breaches in the Mississippi River levees to allow water and land-building sediment to flow into nearby marshes, hopefully stemming the pace of land loss in those two basins.

Both diversions would be in Plaquemines, and some fishing industry and business leaders have complained that the potential effects of diverting tons of sediment and fresh water into the surrounding marshes have not been well studied. Those areas now are fertile grounds for commercial fishermen.

The same folks have said the state has been unwilling to heed their concerns, noting that there is no Plaquemines Parish representative on the state coastal authority's board.

Despite the dangers, Edwards said he believes Louisiana is well positioned to meet the challenge.

“We have some things going for us,” he said, pointing to the state’s coastal master plan and an expected influx of funding from both the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement and shared oil and gas revenue from the Gulf of Mexico.

“I believe this is Louisiana’s moment,” he said. 

Earlier in the day, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said New Orleans and the coast are inextricably linked.

"New Orleans was created because of the coast," she said. "We have to live with water."

Like Edwards, Cantrell implored conference attendees to act before it's too late. "Our future depends on it," she said.

Those sentiments were widely echoed among the nearly 1,000 attendees at the conference.

One of those who agreed was Rob Nairn, a Toronto-based engineer with Baird, a Wisconsin-based engineering firm that does work along the coast. The conference, Nairn said, is the best gathering of coastal intellectual capital to be found. 

“Everything we are doing here is cutting-edge stuff,” he said.